"To be or not to be - that's what I want to know!"
Anglia Television is chiefly remembered today for 'Roald Dahl's Tales Of The Unexpected', 'The World Of Survival' and 'Sale Of The Century' ( "Now From Norwich - Its The Quiz Of The Week!" ) hosted by the one and only Nicholas Parsons. In 1977, the station forayed into the realm of sitcoms with 'Backs To The Land' which attempted to do for the Women's Land Army what 'Dad's Army' did for the Home Guard.
The year is 1940, and young women from all walks of life are recruited to work in the countryside to do the jobs the menfolk did before going off to the front. Milking cows, feeding chickens, baling hay, that sort of thing. The three central characters in 'Backs' are débutante 'Daphne Finch-Beauchamp', cheerful Cockney 'Jenny Dabb' and down-to-Earth Jewish girl 'Shirley Bloom'. They are sent to Crabtree Farm, Norfolk, owned by the tight-fisted and cantankerous 'Farmer Tom Whitlow'. The show that followed was a kind of hybrid of 'Two In Clover' ( townies struggling to adjust to the country way of life ) and the 'All Is Safely Gathered In' episode of 'Dad's Army'.
The scripts were by David Climie, co-author of the hit Derek Nimmo monastic sitcom 'Oh Brother!', and adaptor of P.G. Wodehouse's tales for 'Wodehouse Playhouse', which starred John Alderton and ( initially ) Pauline Collins. Climie wrote a novelisation based on 'Backs', and later did one for Ronnie Corbett's 'Sorry!'.
Anne Shelton sang the patriotic title theme, which went something like: 'Backs To The Land Girls/There's So Much That You Can Do/Lending A Hand Girls/Britain Is Proud Of You'. Anne later sang the theme to another wartime sitcom, the B.B.C.'s ill-fated 'Then Churchill Said To Me', which starred Frankie Howerd.
After one season, Marilyn Galsworthy ( who played 'Daphne' ) left ( to appear in 'The Spy Who Loved Me' as that unfortunate secretary who falls into a pool where she is eaten alive by sharks ), and was replaced by the equally sexy Pippa Page as showgirl 'Bunny Burroughs'.
Three seasons were made in total. I have not seen 'Backs' since its original broadcast, but remember it as being pretty good. No 'Dad's Army' though. The late John Stratton was often hilarious as the miserable farmer. What damaged the show in my view was the annoying ( and somewhat obvious ) use of canned laughter. Sometimes a laugh track can improve a sitcom ( how Johnny Speight's 'Till Death' in 1981 could have used one! ), but here it had exactly the opposite effect. Every line uttered on screen was accompanied by patently artificial tittering, giggling and chortling. The end result was like watching a film in the company of a senile relative who finds everything he/she sees amusing.
Another problem the series had was that Phillippa Howell ( Shirley ) and Terese Stevens ( Jenny ) apparently did not get along in real life, and disparaged one another in the popular press.
Farmer Whitlow's sons appeared in the first series, and were played by two real-life brothers - Michael and David Troughton. Michael went on to be 'Piers Fletcher-Dervish' in 'The New Statesman'.
'Backs To The Land' had tremendous possibilities, but the canned laughter unfortunately killed much of the humour stone dead. A great shame.
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